Monday, September 06, 2010

How To Improve Club Visibility

The Northern Kentucky Kendo Club has grown a lot over the past year.  When I first arrived, there was only me and about three other people that regularly attended the practices each week.  Now, through the efforts of the dojo leader, Jim Atkins, the club has blossomed into a decent-sized club that has about 10 to 15 people that come on a regular basis.

This wasn't an easy thing to do on his part.  Through his own life experiences and connections with those in the community, he has been able to do his part in getting the world out there and tapping into the demand that exists in the area for "sword fighting."

Club growth and retention is a well-known issue in martial arts circles.  While the sword arts are gaining popularity through the proliferation of anime, samurai movies and better access to all things Japanese culture, some places still seem to have problems with getting people to step in the door.  What I would like to do with this post is take some time to go over some things that he has done to get the word out and get more inquiries and people walking through the doors to practice.

1)  Have an online presence
The drop in prices and increase in access to the internet has brought more people to the information superhighway (how long has it been since I've heard that term?) to do commerce and find out information on a variety of subjects.  With Facebook and blogging websites, it is now easier than ever to create a webpage to advertise the club with minimal knowledge in all things HTML (hypertext markup language) or CSS (cascading style sheets).

The most interesting thing about this aspect is that the club website doesn't have the fancy pictures and videos that most would feel is required to bring people to the website.  Obviously, those things would ultimately help, but showing a regularly updated page with club times, locations and contact information seemed to, at least, provide the minimum information to those that are interested.

The most important thing though is that the website must be easily searchable to those that might be looking for information on your club.  For example, you type in "Kendo Cincinnati" into a search site like Google and the club shows up as being the one of the links at the top, thus making it easier for anyone to find information on your club.  I don't know much about how to do this other than making sure your website has various keywords that might make it possible, so it's best to do some research on that to bring your website to the top of the search engine results.

2)  Take any opportunity to demonstrate
Public speaking is hard.  I can say that from personal experience.  But it is necessary to take whatever opportunity you put on demonstrations in your area.  The most accessible venues are Asian festivals and "club days" that school campuses have throughout the year, but more locations like libraries, talent shows or even banks (yes, the club will be doing a demo at a PNC bank in the next few weeks) should be in the range of possibilities.

The usual format is the introduction, description of equipment, demonstration of strikes and having some matches to finish it off.  But it isn't enough to just go through the motions.  This is your chance to show off your club, so it's probably a good idea to take this chance to show off the club in the best light.

The way that Jim does his presentations is to cater to the crowd.  He uses words like "ninja", "samurai" and "sword fighting" to identify with the crowd since that's what the typical layman is used to hearing.  It's not totally accurate, but it gets the point across which ends up opening the doors to allow more specific, yet basic, information to get absorbed.  Another thing that he does to engage the crowd is to find out what the audience knows by asking basic questions about what they may or may not know about the sword arts and build the presentation off of that.  This step not only engages the crowd even more, but allows the most adept of presenters to mold the rest of the presentation based on the crowd they are presenting to.

The most important aspect to remember about this is that presentation styles aren't "one size fits all."  How Kendo and Iaido is presented depends on the particular event, people in attendance and ones own presentation style.  I have been gaining some experience in this aspect, but I still need to fool around a bit with how I say stuff to really settle into a style that works for me.  Some research and practice in public speaking might be in order for most people.

3) It's not what you know, but who you know
It's one thing to know the steps you want to take in order to show the existence of your club, but it's another thing to be able to actually take those steps to reach your goal.  Being involved with the community and having friends in special places can really help in making things easier for you to do the things you can to advertise for your club.  In Jim's case, he was able to get his friend to tape a video for the club and put it on the public access channel for anyone to see.  This is a pretty hard step, but it's really necessary and I've seen how well having connections and a good personality can help in getting what you want and need.

4) Advertise, Advertise, Advertise
Okay, so you have the website and done the demos.  For some, that may be enough, but for others, there might be more steps that you need to take in order to get the word out.  It's really important to get creative and advertise the club through the various outlets at your disposal.

Here are some ideas that could be taken:
  • Do various community service projects in the name of the club.  Not only is it easy advertising, it also helps out those in need.
  • Put on various forms of fundraisers.  This could be through bake or garage sales.  There is the ease of advertising, but it also raises funds for the club in order to do more outreach programs or help out the club with other activities or equipment assistance.
  • Make T-shirts for club members to wear and/or give them out at demonstrations.  The possibility of this is dependent on the funds of the club and/or members, unfortunately.  But it can be a powerful form of advertisement.  Some anecdotal evidence of this is the fact that I was stopped in a Kroger a few times when someone wanted to ask me about the shirt I was wearing.  It didn't yield any results, but it shows that people do pay attention to what you're wearing.
  • Lots of people participate in various things online.  Do you have a big passion for Kendo?  Why not blog about it?  You can also put links to club websites in online profiles and forum signatures.  This one also requires a bit of creative thinking to at least get the name of the club out there.
  • It's possible to convince a your kid to do show-n'-tell segments at school or perform in talent shows.
5) Luck
It's really not the step that most people wouldn't want to hear, but let's face it, the ability to get information out there is also based on luck.  Opportunities sometimes happen by chance, like having members and friends with certain credentials, to having the planets line up correctly is sometimes the only thing you can rely on to get the word out.  In cases like these, it's best to seize whatever moments you have and think with the "glass half full" mentality.

This list is definitely not absolute.  The steps that you can or willing to take is all dependent on where your club is located, thought processes of the public in your area, comfort level, local laws and monetary funds.  However, no matter the situation, it will take a lot of hard, and possibly fruitless, efforts to get the name and purpose of the club out there.  In any case, we know that there is a demand for doing these exotic Japanese arts, it's just the issue of showing people that you can provide that sort of thing.

It's also important to realize that the club won't grow overnight, and there may be some hard times ahead for the club if it hasn't been there already for various socioeconomic reasons.  In this case, it's best to persevere for the sake of the club and press ahead to make sure that your club goals, however big or small they may be, are reached.

The next step is that, if you happen to be lucky to get more members, how can you learn to keep them?  The advice on that is going to be in the next post!


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